While waiting for the go to tell you some new, exciting news, I’m currently staring down the invitation to my 20th college reunion. It’s less than a week after Starling‘s release date, and, since my co-author lives in the D.C. metro area and I went to GWU, it’s convenient.
But I probably won’t go. I’ve never gone to any of my college reunions. Because college was a hot mess for me — I was pretty crazy and my school at the time was deeply homophobic (among other things). My friends and I experienced violence and threats, the administration at the time was unresponsive, and I have no idea how the hell I managed to graduate in four years.
So going would be kind of weird.
The reason I am telling you this, is because Starling comes out in a little over 30 days, and while it’s my first novel release, it is not my first time at the book rodeo. Having done this before, there’s some stuff I’ve learned from it, and if Erin and I are always telling you to Do the Thing! it is also only fair if I tell you some hard truths about your (and my) upcoming book release.
It will not fix your brain. Have depression? Guess what? You’ll still have depression after your book comes out. Anxiety? Maybe you’ll have even more! An external achievement, no matter how much work, talent, and passion you’ve put into it, cannot rewrite your brain chemistry. That’s okay! It would be kind of weird if it did.
Your Amazon ranking will make you crazy. It’s fun for the first 48 hours. Then it’s a time sink. Eventually it will make you nuts. Stop looking at it. If something amazing happens with it, someone will let you know (three random friends emailed me when my first book hit the top 1,000 (that’s three digits, y’all) in the overall Amazon rankings), and it will all happen whether you’re there to see it or not.
People who have wronged you will not suddenly realize the error of their ways. Parents that said no one would ever care about your stories? High school teacher who failed you when you started sentences with and? That person in your critique group who just loathed your narrative themes and was really petty about it? They’re probably not going to come around. If they do, they’re probably not going to tell you about it. And, if somehow I’m wrong, you’ll be satisfied for all of five minutes, because you’ve been sitting on that wound for years while they’ve been worried about their own crap. I know the fantasy is satisfying, but trust me when I tell you that reality is just not going to measure up.
High school reunions will probably still suck. Or not. I actually have had a pretty good time at my high school reunions, despite, or perhaps because I haven’t stayed in close contact with the people I grew up with. But the fact is, what’s going to make your reunion awesome is trading ancient in-jokes with people you haven’t seen in a decade… or three. People care about your book as much as you care about their baby pictures. Own it.
It’s never enough. Book releases are a high. And then they are over. Like the crash that happens after a conference, play, movie shoot, or other highly intense, ego-driven endeavor where you get to do what you love and people say nice things to you, books are the same way. It’s okay. Just know it’s coming and keep working. Because the only way to get through it is to love the stories you’re creating. Because the next book? The next contract? Also not enough. And if you’re only writing to fill that hole of praise and excitement, you’re going to burn out quickly and badly. If you’re writing to breathe your imagination into the world, and are in love with what you are doing, the crash is a lot easier to weather. Additionally, the real change in your circumstances and the world often comes from being more than a one hit wonder.
The Internet is still made of dicks. Not the fun kind, if you’re into that. I mean the random strangers who send you hate mail, that weird ex- of an ex- who has been stalking you on Facebook forever, and the detractors you didn’t know you had until it’s really important to them to tell you you’re not a real writer because you’re not writing in their genre of choice or your story didn’t end the way they wanted it to. Congratulations. Now don’t read the comments.
Basically, this one book won’t really change your life. Really. Even if you become a best-seller and make scads of cash — and statistically most of us don’t. Sure, you might have an easier time paying your bills, or get to do some interviews, or have moments where you too get to do celebrity things (sign autographs? make public appearances? have an assistant? bring it on!), but the reality is that the only person who can change your life is you. If that’s in response to the circumstances or success of your book, that’s fantastic, but the external hand of success isn’t how it happens. It’s how you respond to it, should it show up.
Believe it or not, this is all more or less good news. Books have a huge amount of power. Things I’ve read have saved my life, encouraged me to create, and motivated me to make change when I’ve needed to. Writing often helps me salve my wounds and understand the world I navigate better. But if every time we released a book our wounds vanished entirely, our obstacles receded, and we discovered psychic powers by which to move our Amazon rankings, the universe would be pretty damn chaotic and a lot of us would lose our impetus to write.
I’m not saying suffering is good, or that you need it to be an artist. That’s crap. Artists know how much their suffering gets in the way. But we do need our history to be artists and the unique lenses through which we see the world. So we shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed when the books we write don’t change our backstories and neuroses even if they help adjust our perspectives.
If you want to be, you are changing your life. Your book, your publisher, and your readers are helping that happen. But always remember you’re the one driving.